One for the record
Whether it’s an exam at university, a game of football in front of a sell-out Patersons Stadium crowd or cooking tonight’s dinner, Matthew Pavlich likes to be prepared. On the eve of the 2011 Starlight Purple Haze Game, the Fremantle Dockers’ captain is preparing to equal one of the club’s most honoured records – the most games played.
He grabs his training jumper, shorts, size 13 boots, mouthguard and purple socks out of locker number 29. Matthew Pavlich shuts his locker door and begins to change.
A few metres to the left and within eyeshot is locker 23, now being used by Chris Mayne. Etched in white on Mayne’s locker door is “Shane Parker — Games 238”, recognising the club’s games record held by Parker, an inaugural Freo Docker who retired in 2007.
Pavlich has fond memories of playing in defence with Parker in the early days of his career.
“He was a great player and someone who I admired when I first got to the club,” he says.
Pavlich pulls up his socks, exits the change rooms and heads out onto Fremantle Oval for training. At the end of the session, he carefully places his sweat-towel on the grass, laying it flat, with all the corners folded out.
He begins his cool-down, performing every stretch for as long as the club’s sports science coaches have instructed him to. Not a second more, not a second less. From go to whoa his process is meticulous.
Fremantle assistant coach Simon Lloyd has only been at the club for just over a year, but in that time he has seen enough of Pavlich to rank the Freo captain among a select category of individuals whose professionalism he considers as absolute elite.
Lloyd says this group comprises only a few players. Brownlow medallists Shane Crawford, Nathan Buckley and Mark Ricciuto are some of the names he lists as deserving of such a status. Lloyd should know; the two clubs he worked at before Fremantle — Hawthorn and Collingwood — have won two of the past three AFL premierships.
“He trains and prepares at a whole new level that I’ve seen very few people in my time in footy do,” Lloyd says of Pavlich.
“His level of conscientiousness is close to flawless.
“Everything that he does, whether it’s at the club or at home with his diet and sleep patterns, everything goes into what he needs to do to perform for two hours on the weekend.”
“The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses — behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.”
This famous quote, by boxing legend Muhammad Ali, sums up the core values that have driven Pavlich’s career. His imminent Fremantle games record is testament to a level of professionalism and dedication rarely reached.
Pavlich credits his upbringing for his higher than average attentiveness to all aspects of his life.
“Having my family and good people around me to guard me along the way has been vitally important to me growing up,” he says.
“And I’m very competitive. I hate not being prepared for anything, whether it’s an exam at uni or a game in front of 40,000 people.
“I like to know that, whatever’s thrown at me, I’m ready to take it on.”
Freo legend and now part-time development coach Shaun McManus is one of Pavlich’s biggest fans.
One of the most respected players to ever pull on a Freo jumper, McManus points to his own milestone game as an indicator of Pavlich’s character.
“I’ll never forget my last game as a Freo player,” McManus says of the 2008 Carlton Mid Derby in round 18.
“Pav came out and he was absolutely on fire. I could see in his eyes before the game that he was hell-bent on playing a big one for me. It was a very special effort.
“He always gives his all every time he pulls on a Freo jumper, but it meant a lot to me for him to play so well and lead us to victory and I’ll forever be indebted to him for that memory.”
“Shaun was the heart and soul of this club for a long time, so it was important for me to play well for him,” Pavlich says.
Fremantle has played 249 matches since a 17-year-old from South Australia passed out an hour into his first Freo Dockers training session at Aquinas College, Manning, in October 1999.
That young man has played in 237 of those fixtures and will lead the side out on Saturday night.
“I love playing in front of our fans. They are so important to us and to have the opportunity to equal the record at home is something I’d cherish,” Pavlich says.
If all goes to plan, next week in Adelaide, the city he grew up in, he will move ahead of Parker.
“It’d be great to do it in front of mum and dad,” he says.
When Matthew Pavlich achieves these milestones, he will have an entire club and its proud purple army willing him and the team to victory.
If Pavlich’s teammates can show the same determination and desperation he has for his comrades, Freo are well on the way.
At this stage of his career, however, Pavlich doesn’t plan on spending too much time thinking about records.
“I won’t be talking about it until I’m old and weary, when I can tell my grandkids I used to be okay.”